Politics

Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, Was Not Having Any of Chris Wallace’s Agenda

Fiery back-and-forth the two on Sunday illustrates what Trump and the GOP are up against on these impeachment hearings

Image Credit: Fox News Screenshot

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), speaking to Fox News’ Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,” refused to let the anchor railroad him or put forward an anti-Trump agenda regarding the ongoing impeachment hearings against the president.

It’s worth reading their fiery exchange word for word to see what went on here — and how Scalise pushed back hard against a certain line of questioning and reasoning to set the record straight.

“David Holmes,” said Wallace, is “the American official in Ukraine who says he overheard a conversation between the president and Gordan Sondland on July 26, the day after President Trump and President Zelensky [of Ukraine] spoke [this past summer]. Holmes told members of Congress in his sworn testimony he asked whether the president cares about Ukraine. He says, “Sondland told him Mr. Trump only cares about big stuff that benefits the president, like the Biden investigation.”

“Doesn’t that contradict the president’s story, sir?” said Wallace. “‘All the president cared about was going after the Bidens.'”

Said Scalise, “Well, if that was the case, then President Trump wouldn’t have done all of the things that he’s done to help Ukraine stand up to Russia. And in fact, on the original Zelensky phone call that was released, President Zelensky was thanking President Trump for the things he’s done — like selling the Javelin missiles, which helped them stand up to the Russian aggression — and the tanks. By the way, Barack Obama and Joe Biden would not sell Ukraine those same Javelin missiles—”

At that point, Wallace interrupted Scalise. “Sir,” Wallace began.

Scalise finished, “—And would not give that same kind of aid.”

Said Wallace at that point, “Sir, all of that — all of that is true. I mean, your statement of the record is accurate. But the differences between the April phone call and the July phone call — President Trump had suspended military aid, $391 million in aid — that the U.S. Congress, you, had helped — had authorized. The president suspended that, and the question is, did he suspend it because all he cared about was investigating the Bidens?”

“No,” replied Scalise solidly. “And in fact, part of what Congress appropriated had language attached to it that required that the administration make sure that Ukraine’s rooting out corruption, because there were elections during that same period you just mentioned. And so Zelensky got elected on a platform of rooting out corruption, which we’re glad about, but nobody really knew if that was what he was going to follow through [on]. And because of Ukraine’s history of corruption, the law required that before any taxpayer money go to Ukraine, the president had to ensure that they’re rooting out corruption — which, ultimately they did,” said Scalise.

“And the money was released,” he added, as Wallace again tried to cut him off. “And then he got the money needed.”

“But, sir,” said Wallace, “both in the April phone call and in the July phone call, President Trump never mentions the word corruption. What he talks about is investigations — investigations of the Democrats, possible interference in 2016, investigations into the Bidens and Burisma.  And the phone call that David Holmes overheard on July 26 — he says what the president asked was, ‘Is he going to do the investigations?'”

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Scalise responded, “Well, and again, we can talk about second-, and third-, and fourthhand information of people who ultimately are going to testify [in this week to come]. You can hear it from them on Wednesday. But what the facts are: Did the money actually go to Ukraine — and even on the phone call with President Trump and President Zelensky, they talked about the steps that Ukraine is taking to root out corruption. It was something that Zelensky got elected on, a platform … Everybody knew that Ukraine had problems with corruption going back to possible interference that Russia also was involved in, in the 2016 election.”

Said Wallace at this point, “Well, you’ve set up the big witness this week, which is on Wednesday. Ambassador Gordon Sondland is going to testify [in the continuing public impeachment hearings as run by the Democrats]. So far, Republicans have complained — and they’re right — that all of the evidence has been secondhand or thirdhand. ‘Somebody who talked to the president told me’ or ‘somebody who talked to the president told somebody, who talked to the witness,'” said Wallace.

“But that’s not true for Gordon Sondland,” added Wallace. “According to an NSC official who testified — and we saw the transcript [on Saturday] — Gordon Sondland met directly with the president at least a half dozen times during this period. If he — and here is what he said.  He corrected his testimony on September 1 with a top aide, in which he said, ‘I said that resumption of U.S. aid would not — would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.’ Congressman Scalise, if Gordon Sondland, who met with the president a half dozen times this summer testifies on Wednesday [that], ‘Yep, the president said to me we’re not releasing the aid until they announce they’re going to investigate the Bidens and Burisma,’ doesn’t that blow a hole in the president’s defense?”

Scalise firmly and calmly said, “Well, the president’s defense is that those things didn’t happen, and it’s not just the president’s word. President Zelensky himself said that the aid wasn’t conditioned and there was no pressure. And then because of some of these innuendos that you’re talking about, the foreign minister of Ukraine just a few days ago released another statement saying that there was never a link between aid and investigations — and once again there were only two people that participated in that phone call. It was Donald Trump and President Zelensky. Both of them were very happy with the phone call. Zelensky said there was no pressure.”

“But, sir, I have to — ” Wallace began, butting in once again and trying to redirect Scalise on his statements.

Scalise calmly continued, “And the real bottom line is he got the money. Ukraine got the money, Chris.”

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Wallace now said, “Well, first of all, a dozen people listened in on the phone call and a number of them were immediately upset because [of] what the president said about Burisma.”

Scalise pointed out, “Well, those were Schiff’s witnesses.”

Wallace then said, “But wait a minute. No, sir. They’re career foreign service officers, and these are people who worked in the Trump administration.”

“They’re Schiff’s witnesses,” repeated Scalise. “There are other witnesses —”

And at this, Wallace cut his guest off.

“You had a woman yesterday,” said Wallace as the men spoke over each other briefly. “Sir, you had a woman yesterday who was on Vice President [Mike] Pence’s staff. She said it was inappropriate. You had Tim Morrison, who was on the NSC staff, who said that he — [that] alarm bells immediately went off for him. Alexander Vindman immediately went to see — these are all people, you said they’re Schiff’s witnesses, [but] they all were working in the Trump administration.”

Scalise corrected him, “Well, no, some of them — they were not all Trump administration folks.”

Wallace then said, “Are you saying that the person working — Alexander Vindman wasn’t part of the National Security commission?”

Explained Scalise, “The inspector general said that the whistleblower had political motivations.”

“We’re not talking about the whistleblowers,” put in Wallace quickly.

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Scalise persisted, “In fact, [he] had some serious concerns about him … We’re talking about all of these people that are —”

Again came the Wallace interruption. “We’re talking about Tim Morrison and we’re talking about the Trump,” said Wallace.

Said Scalise, “You’ve seen our list of who we’ve asked to testify.”

And Wallace said, “I’m asking you about these people who worked in the Trump administration, who worked for the Trump national security council or worked for the vice president’s office.”

Now watch the point Scalise made so well here.

“Well, Chris, this is an important point,” said the congressman. “There are a lot of people who worked in the Trump administration who have very countering views to that, and they’ve not been allowed to come forward. So, it’s nice that some people can say one thing about a thirdhand information phone call. There’s something else that other people can counter that with, and they haven’t been allowed to come forward. But ultimately, President Trump and President Zelensky were the ones on the call. Both of them said there was nothing wrong. The foreign minister of Ukraine just came out a few days ago to clear some of this up, to say there was never a link between —”

And here again, Wallace cut him off.

“He incidentally was not on the call either,” said Wallace. “But let me — if I could go back to Gordon Sondland. If Gordon Sondland says the president told him, ‘Condition aid to Ukraine on investigating the Bidens,’ are you going to say that he’s wrong? That he’s lying?”

Replied Scalise firmly and with great patience, “Look. I know you’ve been asking and others have asked hypothetical questions. Let’s talk in reality. Why don’t we look at the three witnesses who actually did testify this [past] week? All three of them were asked by — whether it was [Rep.] John Ratcliffe [of Texas] or whether it was [Rep.] Chris Stewart [of Utah] — all three of them were asked, ‘Did you see any impeachable offenses? Did you see any bribery? Any of that?’ Not one of those things were mentioned. Not one person said he saw a crime committed.”

“Sir, with all due respect,” Wallace put in.

Scalise continued, “That’s what this is about, isn’t it?”

And Wallace went on, “With all due respect, that very badly mischaracterizes what they said. They were asked — William Taylor, for instance, the acting ambassador in Ukraine, was asked whether or not these were impeachable offenses. He said, ‘I’m there as a fact witness. I’m not there to pass judgment.’ But he made it clear what he thought about what the president was doing.”

Wallace then played a clip of Taylor saying, during the hearing last week, “To withhold that assistance for no good reason other than help with the political campaign made no sense. It was counterproductive to all of what we had been trying to do. It was illogical. It could not be explained. It was crazy.”

(“Not there to pass judgment?”)

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Put in Wallace, after the Taylor clip was played, “He said withholding military aid to help with the president’s political campaign was ‘crazy.'”

And here’s how Scalise responded: “And the problem with that is it didn’t happen, Chris. The Ukraine foreign minister, based probably on some of that testimony, said it didn’t happen. Zelensky said it didn’t happen. Those are the people directly involved. You can bring out people that have third- and fourthhand information. I thought this was supposed to be about finding facts. And if they’re going to try to impeach a president of the United States, shouldn’t it be based on something that actually happened — versus one person’s opinion of a thirdhand conversation?”

“Well, OK,” admitted Wallace. “All right.”

Scalise then said, “That’s really what this is all about.”

Wallace then said, in part, after that, “I think that’s fair, sir.”

But Wallace also tried to get in this jab before the end of the interview: “Are you willing to abide by whatever Gordon Sondland says happened?”

Scalise was fast on the draw to that: “‘Abide by Gordon Sondland?’ I abide by what the president did, and what President Zelensky actually received,” he said to Wallace. “President Zelensky received the money. Barack Obama wouldn’t give that money, by the way.”

Share your thoughts on this exchange, which went on even further — and see the full and intense conversation here.

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